Paradise in Hell: A Balinese Welcome



Another jolt to the back of my seat, the cheap seat straight to Bali. Twiddling the plastic fork in my hand as I try to eat the lukewarm vegetable curry, I consider turning round and jamming it into his eye. The slow-building pungent aroma of stale sweat and VB is very real. Having already decided that leaving New Zealand and the good life yesterday was a bad idea, the drunk Aussies behind me were clearly a bad omen. Sitting on a one-way Jetstar flight from Auckland to Bali, a two month respite in Indonesia before starting life over again in Manly, Australia. I turn to the owner of the thick, tattooed slab of leathered arm weighing the arm rest down, the self-appointed leader of the Sydney crew. A full tribal sleeve, a relic of the golden age of mid-2000s, masks the numerous train tracks expertly. The three behind, along with Tribal, were picked up via a stopover in Sydney, not wasting a moment in getting as wrecked as possible by the time the sun goes down in Kuta, still six hours away at this point.


An underpaid and overworked flight attendant pushes the drinks trolley down the aisle. Before even reaching our seats, a voice pipes up from behind, a voice closer to its own dialect than English, asks for another tinny, and a G&T. Feeling the wall of stagnant breath drift past me, akin to dregs of yesterday's beer left in the sun, no way is he getting served again. With a forced smile, the attendant cracks a pre-mixed can of gin and tonic, and places it down on his tray, who proceeds to neck it all. After abusing a nearby passenger for daring to ask them to keep it down, Tribal is left with no choice other than to try and reign in the mob before action is taken. Hushed words are said, reminding them of when they last attempted the pilgrimage to Bali only to be diverted to Darwin and subsequently arrested. I check the map, trying to work out how long until we reach Darwin, already regretting my decision to move to Australia.


The plane touches down in Bali, the longest six hours flight endured. Tribal and the gang, muscle tees and short shorts, disperse and wander off into setting Kuta sun. Watching them all stagger away, I stand with my board bag and head for the taxi rank. Before even seeing a vehicle, I am descended upon by a swarm of determined Indonesians. Several fight over my luggage, desperate for my custom. Holding firm, I don't release the bag until a price is settled. Knowing to never hop in a cab before negotiating a fixed price, I have no idea what the going rate actually is. 50,000 Rupiahs seems to be the going price, more with a surfboard, knowing I am being ripped off, but I am in no mood to haggle and opt for the most non-aggressive driver around.


Driving through Kuta, with its palm trees lining the hectic freeway, motorbikes weave in and out of the heavy traffic, illuminated by the Seven-Elevens and billboards, tattoo and massage parlours. The scenery rarely changes. It doesn't take long to realise what I had feared; Kuta is the Magaluf for Australians. The worst people Australia has to offer, much like how the worst of the UK descend upon once-idyllic islands in the Mediterranean, this bustling tropical town has become a cesspool, devoid of all Indonesian charm. Kuta is now purely a haven for a quick and easy getaway for Aussies, and all their imported charm of drunken anger.


I venture out into the warm evening air, barely 8pm and the bars are overspilling into the streets, smashed glass and sun stroke, the town is alive. Stepping into a relatively quiet bar, I take a stool and look out across the road as two guys swing drunken fists at each other. Ripped shirts and blood fly, their girlfriend's shouting at something, their grating Aussie voices hurt as much as a fist to the face, as revellers stand by holding phones up. Ordering a Bintang, the Indonesian beer of choice, witnessing the chaos outside, wanting a chilled surf break before Australia, I had come to the wrong place.


Desperate Indonesian hustlers are relentless, tourist traps inevitably always attract the opportunists from far and wide, flogging cheap wares at every stop. Aggressive bracelet vendors and masseurs irritate at every opportunity. Taxi drivers coaxing anyone and everyone into their cars, bars and restaurants flaunt their overpriced food and drink, the whole place is catered towards, and to exploit, the Kuta crowd. After only an hour experiencing said crowd, I hold no sympathy. What I imagine was once a peaceful village with incredible surf, not anymore. Plastic, the sheer volume I have never encountered before, litter every crevice and smother every surface, the ocean brown and waste-filled, this is Kuta.


Bintang singlets and sun-damaged skin, Tribal and his cohort were not an exception, they were the rule. One night in Kuta was enough, I had to get out. Having spoke to a French guy earlier, he mentioned Canggu was an upgrade, the surf much better and less tourists, that was all I needed. The next morning I hailed a taxi and standing with my board bag, this time armed with the knowledge of how much a taxi should cost, I didn't have to wait long until I was swooped upon once again. Bluebird was the taxi company to trust, and only them. An initial inflated quote was given to me, standard practice. I straight up refused and countered with a reasonable price that was the price, the driver merely smiled a toothless grin and accepted.